City of Lawrence residents now owe nearly $1.8M in back utility bills; new city and state programs to help provide assistance

photo by: Journal-World illustration

A City of Lawrence utility bill is pictured in a photo illustration.

The collective past-due balance owed by Lawrence residents on their utility bills has now reached nearly $1.8 million.

The City of Lawrence provides water, sewer, and trash and recycling collection services citywide. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city stopped charging late fees and disconnecting service for nonpayment in March 2020. About 3,500 Lawrence households, or about 10% of customers, currently have utility balances that are more than three weeks past due, amounting to about $1.79 million in delinquent payments, according to the city’s most recent utility billing report.

For those who are behind, multiple assistance programs are available, and the City of Lawrence recently launched its own assistance program in August. That program depends on donations from customers to help other customers. So far, Utility Billing Manager Kristy Webb said a few dozen customers have signed up to contribute to the program, and the city hopes to see that number grow.

“We’re very happy with the generosity shown by the customers that have pledged to donate,” Webb said.

As of Tuesday, Webb said that 28 customers had pledged to donate a total of about $350 per month to help their fellow residents pay their utility bills, or about $4,200 per year. As part of the program, customers can choose an amount to donate as part of their monthly utility bill. The donations go to provide utility assistance to low-income residents.

The city hired Catholic Charities to run the program, with the administration fees coming from the city’s general fund, and the organization will begin accepting applications in January from people who need assistance. Webb said once funds for a particular month were exhausted, Catholic Charities would stop accepting applications for that month, but would resume the following month. She said the city hoped that as awareness of the program continued to grow more people would donate.

In addition to the city program, multiple state assistance programs are available. The Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance (KERA) program has millions of dollars available for rent and utility assistance for those who have been economically affected by the pandemic. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation administers the program, and those interested can apply for assistance at The city began receiving funds from KERA to apply to utility accounts in late May, and as of Oct. 1 KERA had paid the city a total of about $186,000 across 263 utility accounts, according to the report.

Two other state-run programs will also soon begin providing assistance, according to the report. The Kansas Department for Children and Families will soon begin the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, which provides funds to assist low-income households with water and wastewater bills. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation will administer the Homeowner Assistance Fund, which will provide assistance with mortgage and utility payments to homeowners. Both programs are expected to launch sometime this fall.

As the city’s utility rates have increased over recent years, city leaders had long talked about expanding the city’s limited utility assistance program. The Lawrence City Commission voted in July 2020 to authorize the development of the voluntary utility donation program. The donation-based program for low-income residents is in addition to an existing program that only serves low-income residents age 60 and older.

Lawrence residents may sign up to contribute to the utility donation program at Those who elect to donate can decide to opt out of the program at any time. The city has not yet set a date for when late fees and shutoffs for nonpayment will resume.


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